Another Killer Deal for the Defense Industry

Human rights take a backseat to hegemony—again

The American public seems not to clearly recognize that since “troops on the ground” went out of fashion, its government has devoted itself to arming terrorists and tyrants to do its bidding by proxy. This is no accident. Since the majority of the population seems to disagree with Washington policy choices—such as impoverishing its citizenry to pay for imperial wars in far-flung lands—and since it often responds to poll queries with alarmingly socialist views, pains must taken to deceive it. This is an ever more sophisticated practice, now requiring banks of slick public relations professionals and a colossal media budget to ensure the “media saturation” called for by all good professors of propaganda. All channels—television, print, websites, a litany of social media platforms, m-sites and mobile apps—must all be inundated with what is sometimes called a “single overarching communications objective,” namely that the United States actions are always either a form of self defense, pre-emptive humanitarian intervention, reluctant punitive measures taken against incalcitrant rogue states, or very occasionally pure altruism. The rights of the weak forever play upon the lips of the spokespersons of power.

Cash, Guns and Reassurances to Cairo

Nowhere is the abyss between America’s hegemonic values and the universal ones it avers more transparent than in our latest weapons deal with Egypt. On Monday President Obama lifted holds on the sale and delivery of F-16s, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits to Cairo. All this aside from the $1.3B in military aid we deliver annually to former General and current President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. During a friendly trans-Atlantic call, Obama warmly assured al-Sisi that America’s military largesse would continue indefinitely. One wonders whether how he phrased it. Perhaps, “Mr. President, in our inestimable wisdom we have decided to overlook several, shall we say, transgressions. Most recently, the 183 people you sentenced to death in a grotesque mass trial that violated nearly every standard of international justice. Many were tried in absentia. Nothing like getting a death sentence by mail, eh, Abdul? But because we like your repressive militant style of governance, we’ll pretend that it never happened. Your weapons order is shipping out this afternoon. And the check is in the mail. Just do us a favor: cut down on the mass trials, tossing nonviolent activists in jail, and the slaughter of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Otherwise we may have to send you aid on the hush-hush.”

He might have added that the trial of former despot Hosni Mubarak was “dismissed.” By that we mean to say that no government police were prosecuted for the slaughter of 1000 protestors during the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. In 2013, al-Sisi’s storm troopers nearly matched Mubarak’s accomplishment by murdering hundreds of citizens protesting the military coup d’état that toppled Mohammed Morsi, the first democratically elected president in Egyptian history. None of the killers have even been charged. In any event, it was a fairly short-lived experiment with democracy. Morsi celebrated his one-year anniversary in office one day, and found himself in a dank prison cell the next.

Morsi, of course, as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, frightened the West for being sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, being thoroughly reviled by American ally Saudi Arabia, and being generally amenable to Islamic influence in the Egyptian state. He had notably loosened border restrictions at the Rafah crossing in Gaza, permitting abused Palestinians to temporarily leave their “open-air prison,” a relief for Palestinians as Israel rationed out basic utilities, withheld tax monies, and conducted occasional “terrorist” cleansings of Gaza. It was clear to all that federal empathy for the plight of a stateless people simply wouldn’t do. Much like Palestinians who naively elected Hamas to lead them in 2006, it was self-evident to any imperialist that Egyptians, unfamiliar with the implicit understanding that democracy is mere window dressing for plutocracy, had simply voted the wrong way.

Restoring Repression

Which is why the U.S. funneled cash and support to Morsi’s opposition through its notoriously transparent “democracy assistance” from the State Department, a tactic employed almost as often as an election goes awry. It is naturally unlawful to waste taxpayer monies fomenting coups in foreign lands, but this is of little consequence to the president, who told Americans that Washington had no preference in the outcome of the Morsi destabilization. It most assuredly did. It feared the retreat of its Western pawns from political influence in Egypt. (Saudi Arabia feared the Brotherhood itself and worked to undermine Morsi’s government, cobbling together an post-coup aid package in the paltry sum of $12 billion, a gift from Riyadh and its fellow Gulf monarchies, which always enjoy the sight of a despotry regained.

They needn’t have feared so much. Morsi proved ham-fisted as a domestic leader. He sought to redraft the constitution and preference sharia law, and exhibited enough autocratic tendencies and appointed enough Islamists to bring non-Islamist citizenry into the streets, prefacing the takeover of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and al-Sisi’s subsequent election. SCAF subsequently appointed a new “Constituent Assembly” to vote on a revised constitution, but attempted to control it much as Morsi had. The current constitution evidently provides extraordinary license to police, intelligence and military groups. (Morsi proved effective, however, in foreign diplomacy, actually negotiating a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel in 2012.)

Al-Sisi didn’t wait long to bloody his own slate. After crushing coup protests, he purged the Sinai in the fall of 2013 of “takfiri” militants (Muslims who kill wayward Muslims). The Muslim Brotherhood reported shortly thereafter that more than 2,000 of its supporters had been killed. The government engaged in something akin to an extermination campaign to eliminate the power of the Brotherhood, notably by outlawing its Freedom and Justice Party. It also reversed Morsi’s sympathetic action on the Gaza border, ratcheting up the border controls back to a level more in keeping with a penal colony, where persistent shortages of food, electricity, water, classrooms, and employment ensured the closure is a mortal threat as well as a form of perverse discipline.

Setting these particular abuses aside, it might be noted that Egypt resumed state executions in 2014 once al-Sisi settled in. According to a new report from Amnesty International, only 15 citizens were executed in Egypt last year, paling in comparison with Iran’s sanguinary 289. But the Cairo cabal was top of the table when it came to issuing death sentences—Field Marshal al-Sisi’s specialty—where it pronounced at least 509, many in the mass trials that recall the farcical show trials Joseph Stalin arranged for the edification of his Soviet minions. None of the other nations researched issued even 100 death sentences.

Amnesty reiterated a point that we know all too well—that innumerable states in the region and worldwide are putting people to death on charges of “terrorism” on the “flawed premise of deterrence.” While true, this phrasing implies that these states are simply misguided, a motley lot of well-intentioned despots who simply haven’t recognized the fuzzy math at the heart of their domestic policies. Nothing could be further from the truth. These regimes, like Egypt’s, know perfectly well what they are doing. A systematic elimination of one’s main Islamic rival organization by branding them a terrorist organization and killing hundreds of them cannot be plausibly dismissed as a good faith national security initiative—the conflict of interest belies that judgment.

From Cairo to Riyadh to Tel Aviv

But Cairo is just the latest proxy to blush beneath the gaze of Washington’s beneficence. We’d be remiss not to toss in the 60 billion in arms the United States sold to Saudi Arabia in 2010, its largest ever sale to the radically anti-democratic, Wahhabi-proselytizing monarchy. The haul included dozens of F-15 fighter jets and many more Apache attack helicopters. A year later the Saudis conducted their brutal takedown of the Bahrainian uprising during the Arab Spring. The Shias there had staged a revolt against the Sunni tyrant on the throne, had destabilized the country, until they were put down by the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) two thousand soldier contingent, a majority of which were Saudi. As one might have expected, as the GCC took control, martial law was imposed, torture became routine, dissidents were routinely jailed, and hundreds were killed. The Shia majority just wanted to elect their leaders. Talk about radical. One wonders what percentage of the Saudi arsenal currently being deployed in Yemen—to put down an indigenous uprising against another Western-backed stooge—is of American provenance.

Nor should we ignore the $10 billion deal the U.S. cut in 2013 with Israel, the Saudis, and the United Arab Emirates, including aircraft, missiles and transport vehicles. The deal was made on the inane pretext that these munitions would help these nations fend off attacks from Iran.

What all these arms deals tell us is that the U.S. has been executing a full-blown strategy to arm its Middle Eastern proxies to the hilt, the better to affect a hostile posture toward those regional rivals that might think to make their own decisions. Namely Iran, Russia, Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah, and Palestine. How telling that with one hand the U.S. bestows incalculable destructive powers upon nations increasingly known for their savagery, domestically and on neighboring soil. With the other it is hectoring defensive-minded Tehran into an absurdly stringent agreement that will nearly dismantle the country’s civilian nuclear energy program, to which it is entitled under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In this, Washington affects the deepest concern—against all evidence—that Iran might race to a bomb and imperil the populations of its regional allies. Washington’s only real concern is that an Iran with a nuclear weapons capacity would shift the dynamics of power in the Middle East. To prevent that it needlessly tramples on the rights of millions, those of Iran and those of the populations repressed by the despots we so freely arm. As all of these examples demonstrate, there are some forms of freedom that the U.S. simply can’t abide, self-determination not least among them.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.